National

Japanese students rank near top in global math and science survey

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Parents with school-aged children, and especially those whose kids show strong interest in mathematics and science, received some welcome news earlier this week when an international survey showed Japan’s education rankings in those subjects to be among the world’s best.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015 Global Study, released Tuesday by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s (IEA’s) international study center at Boston College, saw Japanese fourth-grade elementary students ranked fifth among students in 49 countries in math and third among 47 countries in science. Japanese eighth-grade students (second-year junior high school students) were ranked fifth out of 39 countries in math, and second in science.

Singapore went to the head of the class in all categories, scoring the top ranking in both math and science at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels. South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong were also among the top five in all categories. Russian fourth-graders cracked the top five in science, and finished sixth, behind Japan, in eighth-grade math.

American fourth-grade students were ranked 14th in math and 10th in science. American eighth-graders were ranked 10th in math and 11th in science.

The survey, conducted about every four years since 1995, shows that Japan’s overall rankings have stayed the same or made some improvement in math and science education at the elementary and junior high school levels since the last survey in 2011. The second place ranking for eighth-grade science students is the highest ever. About 4,400 elementary students at 148 schools and 4,700 junior high school students at 147 schools in Japan took part in the survey.

In addition to high test scores, the survey also gauged student attitudes about the classes and teachers and revealed a high level of satisfaction.

Worldwide, the vast majority of fourth-grade students, 94 percent, said they found their teaching engaging, while 84 percent at the eighth-grade level did.

One growing concern is cyberbullying, with 45 percent of fourth-grade students reporting being bullied monthly or weekly, and 37 percent of eighth-grade students reporting the same.

In a statement following the release of the TIMSS survey, education minister Hirokazu Matsuno credited reforms in Japan over the past decade that have placed renewed emphasis on basic math and science education.

“The results confirm that a passionate and dedicated educational system by all educators and schools has been enacted,” Matsuno said in a statement.